VILNIUS - Defense Minister Candidate Rasa Jukneviciene said funding for Lithuania's defense system would remain the same, following a meeting with the President.
She has also backtracked on her previous statements pledging to reinstate compulsory service for able-bodied youth to bolster the nation's army.
After a meeting with Valdas Adamkus, the candidate criticized the previous Social Democrat government for not financing the defense system properly. However, she also said the new right-wing coalition government will not be able to spend more money on defense due to the current economical situation.
Currently 1.11 percent of the country's GDP goes to defense. Lithuania needs to increase its defense spending to meet the NATO benchmark of 2 percent.
"It is the third result from the end among NATO members. We are really concerned [about] changing this. However, the real financial situation does not allow doing so next year in any possible way. We must jump through this financial crisis and not fall into it any deeper," Jukneviciene said.
The previous government promised to increase the funding by 0.05 percent every year, but it is still at the same point as it was last year because of the financial crisis. The possibility of a smaller GDP next year may result in reduced defense system financing as well. Increasing GDP share for defense should be a post-crisis concern, according to Jukneviciene.
"A situation like this is not a good one. However, at the moment the government saves money in general, so there is nothing surprising that the defense system is included as well," Arunas Molis of the Baltic Defense College said.
Jukneviciene also said that it is necessary to make NATO pay more attention on the safety of Lithuania's territory because the conflict in Georgia proved that it is unsafe. She told The Baltic Times after the invasion of Georgia that the country needs to ready itself for an attack from Russia.
Jukneviciene also said that the 139th article of the Lithuanian Constitution would be realized by the new four party coalition. The article states, "The defense of the State of Lithuania against a foreign armed attack shall be the right and duty of each citizen of the Republic of Lithuania."
This was supposed to be ensured by the compulsory army service, but Gediminas Kirkilas government abolished this law. Jukneviciene said she would not bring it back, but instead would organize general defense training for the citizens of Lithuania.
"The compulsory service is not necessary in peace time. Lithuania is at peace, and I cannot see any real danger in the near future. Organizing defense training for all the citizens would be too expensive now. However, the activities of institutions like the National Training Centre or Lithuanian Riflemen Union may be intensified," Molis said.
The ministry has recently paid out huge bonuses to its employees 's 19.7 million litas (5.7 million euros) were given to civil servants working in the national defense system and troops serving in the armed forces.